Feb 132017
 

Sunday wasn’t a great day, and as the afternoon wound down, I flipped over to Netflix to see if anything would catch my eye. For some reason, I clicked “play” on this movie which had never before tempted me in the slightest.

Looking back now, it’s hard to reconstruct exactly how it happened that I sat through it to the end, but I did, and as a result, I can say without reservation that Mortal Instruments is the biggest mess of a movie I’ve seen in ages. It’s gasp-inducingly bad.

And yet, there is Jonathan Rhys Meyers in black leather and rat tail braids. There is Lena Headey doing nothing but lying there asleep in scene after scene without ever getting a chance to wake up and kill her kid or fuck her brother. And there is Godfrey Gao in briefs and a dinner jacket mixing and mingling at a party. And there he is again striding smartly across an empty set in a fitted black robe with a cavernous hood that isolates and sets off his perfect profile. Also, there are vampires

These things alone should, by all rights, have made this movie wonderfully “bad” and carved it out a place in my magical gallery of guilty pleasures, regardless of what else was going on in the dreadfully silly (and even worse cast) main plot. Yet they don’t, they can’t, the rest is just too awful.

Which is tragic.

 February 13, 2017  Movie Logs Tagged with: , , ,
Feb 112017
 

I haven’t read, hadn’t even heard of the text being adapted here—Austin’s “Lady Susan” and called a novella in the credits—but watching it, something about this unstoppable woman with her American friend made me imagine Austin writing with Henry James sitting at her elbow whispering in her ear. (Although obviously I hear the echo because she was whispering in his.)

My pleasures here are pretty specific and fully non-literary. I think Kate Beckinsale is great in even her worst movies (and am bothered that everyone else doesn’t), so seeing her in something wonderful is, well, wonderful.

And Tom Bennet’s Lord Martin may be the most perfect comic invention of 2016. His idea of what a good-natured simpleton trying to appear to be a sophisticated nobleman looks like had me in tears. I need a Martin in my gang of friends.

 February 11, 2017  Movie Logs Tagged with: ,
Feb 092017
 

I find everything about the Beats fascinating. Yet oddly (and I would have thought impossibly), I also simultaneously find most things about the Beats deadly boring.

This film is no exception. As a result I find my reaction to it an inexplicable jumble of engagement and disregard.

Kudos though to Daniel Radcliffe for caring enough about the project to put his knees where his ears are, which, joking aside, is pretty amazing to see. A popular star in his position doesn’t have to take the career risk a gay sex scene this blunt entails. That he does and that, as a result, so many different types of people will see it is no small thing.

 February 9, 2017  Movie Logs Tagged with: ,
Jan 242017
 

Romance and the gothic, two dominant modes in the American novel, loom over Washington Square and frame expectations for how the plot might develop. Interestingly, all of these expectations are dashed.

The narration personifies both modes: romance is a meddling aunt, the gothic, a fierce and domineering father. Under their shadow, an allegory emerges both from the protagonist’s troubled courtship by a charming rake out to marry her for her fortune and from the narration’s evocation of and subsequent refusal of romantic and gothic expectations for how that courtship might proceed. The stakes of this allegory are nothing less than the novelist’s sense of the aesthetic possibilities of the American novel.

The heroine survives the mechanations of her father and aunt. She also escapes the rake’s attempts to marry her. And then twenty years after their engagement is called off, in the novel’s final and most powerful scene, the heroine, no longer young and no longer innocent, is confronted again by the rake and he still has eyes on her money. But this time around the heroine has her eyes on him as wellHe speaks, and she watches, and what she sees—powerfully and in an instant—is who he is and who he was. Fortified by a clear view of his character, she rejects him one last time and returns to her ordinary but not unhappy life.

What I read in this final staging of vision as knowledge is the author’s self-conscious choice of a realist mode and his glorious discovery of the character’s gaze as it’s vehicle.

 

 January 24, 2017  Book Logs Tagged with:
Jan 132017
 

When I was doing my BA, a friend told me a story about her younger brother. As I remember it, while growing up, her brother loved Bette Midler and Patsy Cline despite the fact that they were performers from and for another generation. He’d collect photos, news stories, anything else he found, and paste them into elaborately decorated and carefully maintained scrapbooks. He was extremely proud of these books and showed them off to friends and family, who took them as signs of his creativity and individuality.

Eventually when he was older, the brother realized he was attracted to men, came out as gay, and it is at this point that the story of the scrapbooks takes a tragic turn.

Once out, the brother began to meet other gay men, and it wasn’t long before he realized that Bette and Patsy were common gay obsessions, both of them campy as hell. Learning this, he understood that his scrapbooks weren’t simply testaments to his creativity. They were billboards advertising his emerging sexuality to anyone with the sense to read the signs. He was in other words the the object of a painful irony, his scrapbooks were now embarrassments, and as I remember the story, he threw them out, although I’m less certain of that than the rest.

I thought of this story reading Halperin’s book because his object of study is precisely these odd, recognizably gay cultural obsessions. The book is wordy and overlong and, in chapter after chapter, Halperin finds reasons to discuss at length Joan Crawford, his own camp obsession. But despite the weakness of the writing and the seemingly impossible scope of his project, Halperin’s descriptions of experiences like those of my friend’s brother often ring true and his attempts to explain how they work are thoughtful and thought provoking.

 January 13, 2017  Book Logs Tagged with: ,
Jan 122017
 

Todd Haynes’s Carol offers so careful and so powerful a reading of Highsmith’s The Price of Salt that it acted as a screen between me and the novel, directing my attention and shaping my responses. And so for me, Carol and Therese are as glamorous, sophisticated and brave in the book as they are in the film.

I wonder though: if I hadn’t seen the adaptation, would the attention to gloves and furs and scarves and purses and all the other recurring details of dress that I read as glamour, would they instead have seemed fetishistic? Would the silences and hesitations of the women as they test their sense of what’s possible between them have seemed so romantic? Would the brutality of the men’s rejection of their relationship have upset me more than it did?

Whatever the case, my movie-addled sense of the novel is that Carol and Therese are enjoying a slow-moving game of cat and mouse in which both of them are cats and both of them are playing mouse.

 January 12, 2017  Book Logs Tagged with: , ,
Jan 102017
 

January.

It was all things. And it was one thing, like a solid door. It’s cold sealed the city in a gray capsule. January was moments, and January was a year. January rained the moments down, and froze them in her memory: the woman she saw peering anxiously by the light of a match at the names in a dark doorway, the man who scribbled a message and handed it to his friend before they parted on the sidewalk, the man who ran a block for a bus and caught it. Every human action seemed to yield a magic. January was a two-faced month, jangling like jester’s bells, crackling like snow crust, pure as any beginning, grim as an old man, myseriously familiar yet unknown, like a word one can almost but not quite define.

–Patricia Highsmith, The Price of Salt

 Highsmith on January  January 10, 2017  Commonplace Book Tagged with:
Jan 072017
 

Aliens arrive at twelve different sites on Earth. They are unavoidably menacing—their ships hover impossibly over land and sea, they manipulate gravity, and they look like slow–moving giant facehuggers—but nothing they do is hostile. Two scholars, one a linguist, one a physicist, have to figure out how to communicate with them while also keeping various militaries from blowing things up.

This isn’t an action film. Violence threatens, but when it happens, it happens off-screen, structuring the story as a deadline or countdown. Camera movements are slow, the shots composed. Both are independent and consistently meaningful channels of information, a feature of sophisticated communication explicitly celebrated in the dialogue. Bracing thoughtfulness is the dominant tone of the narrative. The dominant activities are listening, studying, and remembering.

Despite the aliens, their technology and the narrative’s mind–bending approach to time, the focus of the film is squarely on two educated people’s efforts to solve cooperatively an unabashedly intellectual problem. Their antagonists are the uneducated and thoughtless people around them who are driven by suspicion, anger, and fear and who are urged on by a hysterical and irresponsible media. These people cut off possibilities for cooperation, prefer violence to patience, and, whether committing suicide, looting, sabotaging, or inciting or threatening others, consistently act badly.

The fantasy of this science fiction is that humane intelligence wins out in the end, a triumph that manifests not as spoils but as a book about translation, a learned work offering help to those wishing to understand the thoughts and ideas of Others in their own words.

 January 7, 2017  Movie Logs Tagged with: , , ,
Jan 052017
 

This novel was frustratingly close to a do-over of Leviathan Wakes. Yes there was variation—a different world in the Belt, an introduction to life on Earth, new characters—but it was still a fake war providing cover for a rogue experiment involving the protomolocule.

What saved it for me was Avasarala and the most unexpected last–page surprise I’ve read in a long time.

I have the third book and will get to it eventually, but I’m less enthusiastic than I was after finishing the first volume.

 January 5, 2017  Book Logs Tagged with: , ,